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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: The original USDA-ARS experimental watersheds in Texas and Ohio: contributions from the past and visions for the future

Authors
item Harmel, Daren
item Bonta, James
item Richardson, Clarence - RETIRED

Submitted to: Transactions of the ASABE
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 2, 2007
Publication Date: October 1, 2007
Citation: Harmel, R.D., Bonta, J.V., Richardson, C.W. 2007. The original USDA-ARS experimental watersheds in Texas and Ohio: Contributions from the past and visions for the future. Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. 50(5):1669-1675.

Interpretive Summary: The United States Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service (USDA-SCS) realized the importance of understanding rainfall and runoff processes on agricultural fields and watersheds in the mid 1930’s. By the late 1930's, the research program of the Hydrologic Division of SCS established three experimental watersheds to analyze the impact of landuse practices on soil erosion, flood events, water resources, and the agricultural economy. Two of the three original watersheds - the Blacklands Experimental Watershed (now the Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory) near Riesel, Texas, and the North Appalachian Experimental Watershed near Coshocton, Ohio - remain in operation today within the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). These original watersheds were designed for collection of hydrologic data on small watersheds and evaluation of runoff and erosion as influenced by various agricultural land management practices. A major contribution of these experimental watersheds was measuring the amount of soil erosion prevented by conservation management, which revolutionized cultivated agriculture in the 20th century. The Riesel watersheds also provided data to develop several watershed models that are now used worldwide to manage water quality. At Riesel, the agronomic and environmental effects of tillage, fertilizer, and pesticide alternatives were also established. The Coshocton watersheds were instrumental in developing no-till and pasture management practices to control runoff, erosion, and chemical loss. At Coshocton, water quality effects related to soil features and to mining and reclamation activities have also been established. The long-term records at each site have also led to improved understanding and management of water resources in their respective geographic regions. Because of their historical and future value, USDA-ARS has a unique responsibility to maintain these long-term experimental watersheds, which are vital for research to meet water availability, environmental quality, and food and fiber production demands for the future.

Technical Abstract: The United States Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service (USDA-SCS) realized the importance of understanding hydrologic processes on agricultural fields and watersheds in the mid 1930's. Based on this realization, the research program of the Hydrologic Division of SCS established three experimental watersheds across the US to analyze the impact of landuse practices on soil erosion, flood events, water resources, and the agricultural economy. Two of the three original watersheds - the Blacklands Experimental Watershed (now the Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory) near Riesel, Texas, and the North Appalachian Experimental Watershed near Coshocton, Ohio - remain in operation today within the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). These original watersheds were designed for collection of hydrologic data on small watersheds and evaluation of hydrologic and soil loss response as influenced by various agricultural land management practices. A major contribution of these experimental watersheds is the quantification of soil loss reduction under conservation management, which has led to drastic reduction in soil loss from cultivated agriculture since the early 20th century. The Riesel watersheds also produced the scientific basis for several watershed models that are now used worldwide to manage water quality and facilitated fundamental analysis of the agronomic and environmental effects of tillage, fertilizer, and pesticide alternatives. The Coshocton watersheds were instrumental in developing no-till and pasture management practices to control runoff, erosion, and chemical loss and in understanding water quality and hydrologic effects of soil macropores and mining and reclamation activities. The long-term hydrologic records at each site have also facilitated improved understanding and management of water resources in their respective geographic regions. Because of their historical and future value, USDA-ARS has a unique responsibility to maintain these long-term experimental watersheds, which are vital for research to meet water availability, environmental quality, and food and fiber production demands for the future.

Last Modified: 8/22/2014
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